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Williamson Muscular Retraining is the name of the method of muscular retraining and therapy developed by Craig Williamson. It is used for correcting ongoing musculoskeletal pain problems as well as improving athletic and artistic performance. This method of body therapy involves:

  1. corrective movement exercises

  2. hands-on therapy

  3. kinesthetic (body awareness) retraining

  4. body alignment education

  5. psychophysical repatterning

Craig Williamson began working as a massage therapist in 1980. Treating thousands of people with massage and bodywork techniques led him to question what were the causes of pain. There are a remarkable number of people dealing with some kind of ongoing musculoskeletal pain. For instance, it is commonly accepted that approximately 80 percent of adults in American society have some kind of back pain, not to mention pain elsewhere in the body.

As it turns out, Craig was one of the 80%.  In attempting to solve his own lower back pain, he discovered that habitually contracted back and hip muscles, low tone in the abdominal muscles, imbalanced alignment, lack of kinesthetic awareness, and emotional stress all had something to do with his pain. Over the course of a few years, as he addressed these factors, he discovered that kinesthetic awareness was the most central issue, the one that was most necessary to effectively deal with all of the other causes of pain. At that time Craig developed a number of different movement exercises and alignment techniques that eventually ended his back pain. He began to teach these methods to the people he worked with in his private practice, and he found that they helped. Many people who had back pain for years became free of pain.

Craig then applied the same principles he had discovered in treating the lower back to the rest of the body. This became a way to use corrective exercises and kinesthetic awareness to address muscle pains anywhere in the body. He also developed hands-on techniques that released habitual muscle contractions while correcting kinesthetic dysfunction. In 1993 Craig began to call this approach Somatic Integration. He later renamed it as Williamson Muscular Retraining.

Williamson Muscular Retraining presents a way to learn how to move, to carry yourself comfortably, and to rid yourself of muscular pain. For all of these things to happen, the muscle tone, or tonus, needs to be balanced. Muscle tone is the resting, or baseline, level of tension in the muscles. If this tension is either too high or too low then you cannot use your bones properly to help support you as you move—in other words, your movement becomes inefficient. This inefficiency causes certain muscles to compensate by working harder than they are meant to work. Eventually, this hard work will make the muscles tired and sore. To compensate for this, and vice versa, other muscles stop doing their fair share. Over time this inefficiency will become habitual and result in poor skeletal alignment, which can irritate or injure joints and connective tissue.

Given all this, the question to ask is, “How does the muscle tone become imbalanced in the first place?” This turns out to be a big question with a number of different answers.

Fundamentally, the body and the mind are not separate. They are two sides of the same coin, the coin being a person. The body and the mind are distinct functions of a whole person, functions that are intertwined and interdependent. Because of that, muscle tone is the result of what is happening with the whole person, not just the body alone. Muscle tone is affected by how you move, how you feel, how you think, how you eat, how you breathe, and a number of other factors. And, all of these factors affect each other.

A person’s overall tone is contingent on kinesthetic awareness and sense of presence, muscular habits and movement patterns, skeletal alignment and carriage, structural injuries, and emotional wellbeing.

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When muscle tone is good, you will generally have a sense of being relaxed and comfortable in movement. This relaxation is a dynamic relaxation, not a total relaxation. Total relaxation is not possible if you plan on getting out of bed and standing up. Relaxation, which is generally a good thing, can be confused with letting go of muscles that are needed to maintain good alignment. For example, if you observe how people tend to sit on furniture they will look relaxed but also slouched. The slouched position involves collapsing and compressing the spine in different places. This makes breathing shallower and is ultimately hard on the spine. In spite of this, a person may feel comfortable in that position because the back and abdominal muscles are relaxed. Dynamic relaxation is a relaxed mode wherein the spine remains long and breathing is unimpeded. In dynamic relaxation the muscle tone is relaxed enough to allow for flexibility yet active enough to support the natural erect shape of the spine. 

In practice, Williamson Muscular Retraining addresses these areas by focusing on muscular retraining, which decreases pain by normalizing the muscle tone (tension). This muscular retraining begins with identifying kinesthetic dysfunction. Then movement exercises and hands-on manipulation are used to restore normal kinesthetic awareness and appropriate muscle use. Appropriate muscle use means, generally speaking, that the muscles closer to the center of the body are going to be doing more work than muscles farther from the center of the body. In most cases of ongoing musculoskeletal pain the reverse is occurring—that is, the muscles in the center are not doing enough while the muscles of the extremities are doing too much.

The plot thickens as one discovers that there are usually involuntary muscle contractions associated with pain. These unconscious contractions interfere with proper muscle functioning by blocking kinesthetic awareness. This results in very tense muscles that cannot fully do their jobs, so they may actually feel weak. In this situation, a person will have unconscious patterns of movement (habits) that are dysfunctional. For example, if every time a person stands up he unconsciously tenses his back muscles, because his psoas muscle is not doing its job, that is a dysfunctional movement pattern.

Williamson Muscular Retraining involves a person repeating movement exercises that address all of the concerns mentioned here. If you have access to a trained practitioner you could benefit by the hands-on treatment and instruction. However, many people are able to help themselves greatly by doing the exercises and alignment techniques alone.

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Williamson Muscular Retraining involves:

  1. corrective movement exercises

  2. hands-on therapy

  3. kinesthetic (body awareness) retraining

  4. body alignment education

  5. psychophysical repatterning